Internationally known honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, drew a rousing, standing ovation on Jan. 12 at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation's conference in Reno.
ABF president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, who presented him with the plaque, praised him as a outstanding liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real world beekeeping and crop pollination.
Considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, Mussen was known as the “pulse on the bee industry” and as "the go-to person" for consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media. Mussen retired in 2014 but continues answering bee questions. As an emeritus, he maintains an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The ABF is a 4700-member national organization dedicated to ensuring the future of the honey bee, Brandi said. The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, headed by president Joan Gunter of Towner, N.D., is a charitable research and education foundation that aims to preserve and protect honey bees.
Mussen, recipient of numerous state and national awards, has been described as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and is one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide" and “a treasure to the beekeeping industry... he is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees."
Mussen served as a longtime board member of the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and a consultant for the Almond Board of California. He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), serving six terms as president, the last one during the 40th anniversary meeting at UC Davis in 2017. He also was involved in the formation of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) and held the offices of president or treasurer of that association for many years.
Mussen was instrumental in the development of the Almond Board of California's Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds. The Almond Board earlier honored him with a service award, describing him as being an “authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries.”
Shortly after he retired, both the CSBA and WAS created an Eric Mussen Honorary Award to present to its outstanding members.
For 38 years, Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and short, topical articles called Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. His research focused on managing honey bees and wild bees for maximum field production, while minimizing pesticide damage to pollinator populations
During his tenure as Extension apiculturist, Mussen traveled to beekeeping clubs throughout the state, addressing some 20 beekeeping organizations a year. For the last 10 years, Mussen conducted the California State 4-H Bee Essay Contest, disseminating guidelines, collecting entries and chairing the judging.
A native of Schenectady, N.Y., Mussen credits his grandfather with sparking his interest in insects. His grandfather, a self-taught naturalist, would take his young grandson to the woods to point out flora and fauna. As a child, “my only concern was what if, by the time I went to college and became an entomologist, everything we wanted to know about insects was known,” Mussen related.
Mussen turned down a football scholarship at Harvard to attend the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he obtained his bachelor's degree in entomology. This is also where he met Helen, his wife of 48 years. He holds a master's degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. His doctoral research focused on the epidemiology of a viral disease of larval honey bees, sacbrood virus.
His activities could fill a book. (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Suffice it to say that Mussen is, and always has been, pro-bee. "I am basically all pro-bee; whatever I can do for bees, I do it,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part interview published in 2011. “It doesn't matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies. Bees are bees and the bees' needs are the bees' needs.”
The nationally awarded plaque “bee-speaks” of his work.
When the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) meets Jan. 9-13 at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno, Nev. for its 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation Conference & Tradeshow, the key concern is bee health.
Sadly, colony losses continue to take their toll.
Our nation's honey bee colonies are down slightly for operations with five or more colonies, according to statistics released Aug. 1, 2017 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In its news release, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service noted that "Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies in the United States on January 1, 2017 totaled 2.62 million colonies, down slightly from January 1, 2016. The number of colonies in the United States on April 1, 2017 was 2.89 million colonies. During 2016, honey bee colonies on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 were 2.62 million, 2.80 million, 3.18 million, and 3.03 million colonies, respectively."
Honey bee colony loss (for operations with five or more colonies) amounted to 362,000 colonies or 14 percent. "The number of colonies lost during the quarter of April through June 2017 was 226,000 colonies, or 8 percent," according to the USDA news release. "During the quarter of October through December 2016, colonies lost totaled 502,000 colonies, or 17 percent, the highest of any quarter in 2016. The quarter in 2016 with the lowest number of colonies lost was April through June, with 330,000 colonies lost, or 12 percent."
And again, no surprise: the No. 1 colony stressor was that dreaded varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and the viruses it can transmit. The parasitic mites suck the blood (hemolymph) from both the adults and developing brood, especially drone pupae.
The ABF conference will zero in on the varroa mite at several presentations on Thursday, Jan. 10:
- "Selecting for Behavioral Resistance to Varroa Destructor"--Krispn Given, Apiculture Specialist, Purdue University Department of Entomology, West Lafayette, Ind.
- "RNA Viruses and Varroa Mites: Temporal Variation in Honey Bee Pathogens Influences Patterns of Co-Infection"--Alex Burham, University of Vermont, Burllngton, Va.
- "Engaging Beekeepers with MiteCheck: Implementing a Nationwide Citizen Science Program for Monitoring and Comparing Varroa destructor Infestations"--Rebecca Masterman, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.
Overall, the diamond-anniversary conference will focus on educational sessions, social and networking activities "and lots of opportunities to learn about new products and services," according to ABF president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, a bee industry leader for four decades. He currently manages some 2000 colonies in central California with his son.
Morris Weaver of Montgomery, Texas, the 1975-76 ABF president, will deliver the keynote presentation on "The American Beekeeping Federation, Inc.: 75 Years Strong."
Attendees can choose from five track sessions: small scale beekeepers; serious sideliners; package bee and queen breeders; honey producers and packers; and commercial beekeepers. Registration also will take place at the door.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, will present two honey-tasting workshops: "Taste and Evaluate Honey: Matching Flowers to Flavors."
This week is truly a gathering of bee scientists and beekeepers. In conjunction with the ABF conference, the American Bee Research Conference will take place Jan. 11-12 in Reno. Marla Spivak, MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, University of Minnesota, is the keynote speaker.
Brandi will deliver his presentation on "Beekeeping in California: An Overview of Colony Management," covering the seasonal management of bees and their population cycle, at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). He will discuss both managed and non-managed colonies.
Brandi, involved in bee industry activities over the past 40 years, chaired the National Honey Board for three years, and served 37 years on the California State Beekeepers' Association Board of Directors, including a year as president in 2016-17. He and his son currently manage about 2000 colonies in Central California.
Brandi, who holds a bachelor of science degree in ag business from California Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo, in 1974, is heavily involved with bees. Among his many activities, he chaired the California Apiary Board from 1992 to 1995; served on the Project Apis m board from 2006 to 2016, and has been a member of the California Almond Board Bee Task Force since 2004 and a member of Carl Hayden Bee Research Center's Industry Liaison Committee since 2002. The USDA research center is located in Tucson.
The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference will filled with educational topics, networking, field trips, a silent auction, door prizes and just plain "bee" fun, says honey bee guru and WAS co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who is serving his sixth term as president.
The conference is open to all interested persons and registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit organization that represents mainly small-scale beekeepers in the western portion of North America, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and Arizona. Beekeepers across North America will gather to hear the latest in science and technology pertaining to their industry and how to keep their bees healthy.
When youngsters meet Alyssa Fine, the first thing they ask is “Do you ever get stung?”
They also ask if the bee population is “still” declining and if she’s a beekeeper.
Yes, yes, and yes.
Alyssa Fine, 23, of Monongahela, Penn., is accustomed to answering questions. As the 2012 American Honey Bee Queen, sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation, she’s an ambassador to the beekeeping and honey industries. One of her responsibilities is to educate the public about the importance of bees and the merits of honey.
And that’s just “fine” with her.
“I really enjoy this,” she said enthusiastically.
A 2010 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management, Fine is spending 11 days in California, one of some 23 states on her itinerary during her yearlong role as the American Honey Bee Queen.
She speaks at state and county fairs, festivals, schools, beekeeping association meetings and to the news media, spreading the word about the importance of bees. She monitors the American Beekeeping Federation’s Facebook page, and the kids’ blog, buzzingacrossamerica.com.
Fine also works closely with youth development groups, including Girl Scouts, 4-H, Boy Scouts. She hopes to “help bring back the beekeeping badge” for Girl Scouts.
Today she toured the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that's anchored with a six-foot-long ceramic bee sculpture.
The sculpture, created by Donna Billick of Davis and cleverly titled "Miss Bee Haven," portrays a morphologically correct worker bee.
Alyssa Fine recognized the worker bee right away.
No stranger to bees, she's been around bees all her life. Her family owns the Fine Family Apiary in Monongahela, located 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. They keep about 150 hives and sell honey at farmers’ markets, at country stores, and via word of mouth. They also offer pollination services on area farms.
Alyssa's earliest childhood memories include running through a field of clover and getting stung by a bee; enjoying fresh comb honey on the front porch; and crafting scores of school projects on honey bees.
So, going from bee onlooker to bee fancier to beekeeper to Pennsylvania Honey Bee Queen to American Honey Bee Queen seemed quite natural. For, "bee-neath" the sash and the crown is a beekeeper who loves to talk about bees and their role in agriculture.
One thing's for sure: come next January, when her year as American Honey Bee Queen ends, she'll replace the crown with a bee veil.
Meanwhile, Alyssa is enjoying her California stay at the BD Ranch and Apiary in Wilton, owned by veteran beekeeper Brian Fishback and his wife, Darla, where they maintain 100 hives. Brian, a volunteer at the Laidlaw facility, is active in area, state and national beekeeping organizations.
Plans for the rest of the week? It's off to the California State Fair in Sacramento.
In fact, State Fair visitors can see their American Honey Bee Queen tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday at the Insect Pavilion where she will be greeting the public, handing out honey-based recipes, and answering questions in front of Fishback’s bee observation hive.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, she'll offer a special treat to State Fair visitors. She will present a cooking demonstration at 2 p.m. at The Farm. She'll prepare glazed skillet chicken, cole slaw and lemonade--all with honey, of course.
As for the Fishbacks, they've hosted an American Bee Queen for the past three years because they believe strongly in the American Beekeeping Federation's mission and message.
“Having an American Honey Bee Queen," he said, "is really good for public education, for people to learn about the importance of bees."